Conflict seems to occur wherever people gather, and the workplace is no exception. Workplace conflict is often born of poor communication or letting emotion rule the decision- making process. When left unaddressed, it can affect employee performance, creativity and productivity and in the long-term, discord and high turnover.
Both managers and employees have a shared responsibility to identify when potential conflict may arise to take steps to intervene.
Here are our four strategies to assist with the resolution process:
- Address Matters Promptly: The Human Resource Director notes that intervening quickly is the best way to settle an internal issue. This way the conflict resolution process is respectful of everyone and may avoid the need for formal complaints and mediation.
Communication between employer and employee may grind to a halt due to hesitation or inaction from both parties. Sometimes concerns are swept under the rug with the belief that they will dissipate over time, or employees may not wish to raise issues so as not to be seen as a complainer or tattle-tale.
Problems will only worsen when left unaddressed. While employees and employers may be reluctant to bring issues directly to the table, it is important to take the plunge and build vital problem-solving skills. Ascertaining the facts can facilitate an early end to small disagreements.
- Communicating Effectively: A manager’s participation in conflict resolution requires prompt action, confidentiality, neutrality and fairness. As employees in a dispute gain confidence in a supportive setting that allows self-expression in the pursuit of facts, open communication can lead to conflict resolution. Experts at HR Assured place a high priority on the importance of effective communication. A calm, private discussion that occurs promptly allows each participant in a conflict to present views that may reflect misunderstandings and false assumptions.
Each person in a dispute deserves the full attention of a manager who may help resolve an issue by listening and paying close attention. A subsequent meeting of both or all participants with a manager provides a place to air the various aspects of a dispute, and the viewpoint varies according to the observer.
In some cases, where it is difficult for both parties to come to a resolution, another option may be to include an impartial third party to mediate the resolution process. Whether this be HR or an external mediator, they create an environment where both sides can be heard and eventually come to an agreement.
- Understanding Motivations: Employees in minor confrontations may or may not recognise the underlying motivation as a typical human desire to achieve one’s goals. A heated difference of opinion may occur when one sees an obstacle that makes it impossible to do so, and the savvy manager can understand the motivations that may influence disputes.
By helping employees achieve their objectives, managers can contribute significantly to employee productivity, satisfaction and morale. While some issues involve behaviour that may seem inconsequential to an observer, they can present severe concerns to the employees who experience them.
A report from News.com.au cites the financial costs of workplace disputes. Employees who experience conflict have 70 percent less productivity, and the effect on colleagues reduces their effectiveness by 40 percent. Estimates of the cost to Australian businesses range from $6 billion to as much as $36 billion annually in downtime.
Stressful situations at work can create an environment that encourages conflict. Long hours and unrealistic expectations of worker performance can exert undue pressure on employees, and alert managers can take preventive measures to alleviate the conditions by noticing them and offering relief.
- Establishing Standards: It is important to define acceptable behaviour in the workplace instead of assuming that everyone knows what it constitutes. Managers need to institute responsible business practices that promote collaboration and team building along with leadership development that offers employees a path forward.
Management may consider implementing an ‘open door policy’ to encourage transparency and open feedback across the organisation.
Well-defined job descriptions and the publication of a chain of command provides information that can help avoid conflicts. Managers can succeed by recognising conflict, understanding its underlying motivations and involving employees in a satisfactory resolution promptly.